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‘Pay Monthly’ websites uncovered – why are they too good to be true?

I did something a little mean today. Actually, it was well-intentioned, but clearly not what the recipient had in mind.

I saw an advert on my Facebook news feed for a service offering a website for £30 a month. A competitor, eh? I had to investigate (you know, for market research purposes!) They included a list of features, such as ‘Free SSL’ (a given nowadays), SEO (vague at best), ‘custom design’ (you sure?) and my ultimate favourite: ‘Free domain name’.

It was naughty, but as a competitor and knowing that there was a catch, I had to leave a comment. It went something like this:

“This seems like a great deal, but if someone decides to cancel this monthly subscription after a couple of years, do you still own their website? And what if they want to keep their domain name? Is it registered under their name, or yours?”

What happened then?

Silence. Which I expected. And then my comment was removed. And then the comments on the sponsored ad was closed. How rude! But this was also expected. Like I said: I knew the catch.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of businesses taking advantage of the comments on a sponsored ad to answer questions – it’s excellent as an FAQ section and to build rapport with potential customers. Not only did this company not do that, but they knew they’d been called out, didn’t want anyone else to see my comment with the ‘catch’, and promptly removed and closed comments. What a shock!

What was the catch?

Unfortunately, this ‘too good to be true’ kind of service is all too common. If you want to own your website, TRULY own it, you don’t want a subscription service to it. You want a contract that details your ownership rights. And you absolutely don’t want someone else holding the domain name to ransom.

Are they all scams?

If you want to go cheap and buy a template site on a DIY service like Wix, Squarespace, or even Shopify, that’s fine. But register your domain name elsewhere first (you can use previously bought domain names) and always, always make sure you purchase with your name as the buyer (regardless of what the domain name is).

But do keep in mind that, if you decide to move away from one of these hosted solutions, your website will get left behind. These sites rely on the infrastructure on which they are built – and in this case, that’s the company’s own custom software. But, at least you’ll get to keep your domain name.

What damage can they do?

Why is all this important? If you’re not able to keep your domain name, all of your search engine optimisation, links, and other vital attributes of your website will be lost if you need to change domain names and start over. It takes time to climb search results, and you don’t want to throw that away (or have old links sending your customers to a dead end – or worse, a competitor) because you didn’t buy your own domain name.

A company holding a domain name can sell it for whatever they like (some domains purchased for £10 can later sell for thousands) or they could snub you and refuse to sell it at all. It doesn’t matter; it’s their domain name and always was.

The same goes for your website. Especially for an e-commerce solution, it’s likely that you’ve got saved order and customer details on there, as well as all your product details and content. If you have a falling out with a company who is, by definition, ‘lending’ your website to you, then who owns that data if there’s a dispute? Who owns the branding and design? What about any content they’ve provided you with, such as images or copywriting?

How can I avoid scams like this?

Holding domain names and websites to ransom is nothing new, but unless you’ve been stung or know someone who has, you’re at risk of being their next victim if you’re not wise to their practices.

All of this doom and gloom doesn’t mean that you can’t get a great website with a suitable payment plan.

We’re 100% transparent in our contract about the terms (for example, if your website costs X and you’d like to pay that balance over six months, your website will be entirely yours when the final payment of X has cleared). Where possible, we avoid buying domain names for our clients (though if they need help with doing this, we always register it under their name and provide proof and login details for them to manage it).

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